Desolation Wilderness

Wilderness Permit Information

Desolation Wilderness Permits

The Desolation Wilderness is by far the most popular destination for backpackers in the Echo Summit area, which is why the wilderness has among the strictest permit regulations in California. In order to protect its unique beauty and wilderness character, human access is limited and certain activities are restricted in the Desolation.

We have all the information you need to plan your trip and avoid any surprises.

Desolation Wilderness Permit Information

Who Needs a Permit?

Any person entering the Desolation Wilderness at any time of year needs a permit, even day hikers. Day hikers simply pick up a permit at a ranger station or at most of the popular trailheads at self-serve kiosks. There are no charges nor quotas for day visitors, although a couple of trailheads charge $5 for day parking (but not for overnight wilderness permit holders). Anyone staying overnight in Desolation Wilderness needs a Wilderness Permit which must be obtained on-line or picked up at a ranger station before your trip.

Permit Reservations

Quotas limit the number of overnight visitors who may enter each day to all of the 45 zones. Quotas are in effect Friday before Memorial Day weekend through September 30. Permits are still required at other times of the year.

Seventy percent of all overnight permits are available by a computerized reservation system at - Desolation Wilderness Permits. Or you can call (877) 444-6777. You can make your reservation up to 6 months in advance. Then within 14 days of your trip, log back onto your account at and print your permit. Or you may take your reservation to a Forest Service permit office during business hours. Permits reservations are no longer made by phone or fax and they are not mailed.

The other 30 percent of the permits are issued on a first-come, first-served basis on the day of entry. Some destinations (zones) have very small daily quotas, so check the table below to see if your group exceeds the entry quota for that zone. Maximum group size is 12.


Permit Reservation Fees: $5.00 per party/per permit (non-refundable). Permit fees are paid at time of reservation. Plan carefully before making you reservation as all fees are non-refundable.
Overnight Wilderness Permit Fee: $5.00 per person for one night, $10.00 per person for two or more nights up to 14 days (non-refundable). The cost of a single permit will not exceed $100.00. Children 12 and under are free. Golden passes do not apply to personal use permits.
Pre-Paid Fee Card: You can pre-pay your permit fees by purchasing this card for $20.00. The card covers only the overnight permit fee and is valid for one year from date of purchase. You must still obtain a permit in person, subject to quota limits.
Permit Changes: $5 feet to change date, zone, or number of people. No fee to cancel.


Forest Service Permit Offices

Pacific Ranger Station

7887 Highway 50
Pollock Pines, CA 95726-9602
(530) 647-5415
Hours: 8 AM to 4:30 PM (summer 7 days a week, winter Monday - Friday)

Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit Supervisor's Office

35 College Drive
South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150
(530) 543-2600
Hours: 8:00 AM - 4:30 PM, Monday - Friday

Taylor Creek Visitor Center

Highway 89, 3 miles north of the Y (Highway 50 intersection in South Lake Tahoe)
South Lake Tahoe, CA
(530) 543-2674
Summer Hours: 8:00 AM - 4:30 PM, 7 days a week

Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit

855 Alder Ave.
Incline Village, NV
(775) 831-1914
Hours: 8:00 AM - 4:30 PM, Thursday - Sunday


Desolation Wilderness Regulations

  • Campfires are prohibited in Desolation Wilderness.
  • Travel is limited to horseback or foot.
  • Group size is limited to 12 people for both day and overnight use.
  • Pets are allowed. Dogs must be on leash or under direct voice control.
  • Livestock is limited to 2 animals per person, to a maximum of 12 animals per group.
  • You must enter on the date specified on your permit and spend your first night in the zone you have chosen. After that you are free to move to any other zone.
  • The group leader must sign and carry the wilderness permit.
  • If your trip includes parking at Pyramid Creek (aka Twin Bridges or Horsetail Falls) or Eagle Falls, you will need to print your parking pass (part of your permit) to display on your vehicle's dash at the trailhead.


Desolation Wilderness Zones

Rather than trailhead quotas, Desolation Wilderness uses zones.
Permits are issued based on the zone where you will spend your first night.
Generally the zone numbers begin in the north and work their way south.
Hint: Use the Find feature of your computer to locate the destination you want.

Desolation Wilderness Zone Quotas
Zone Total Daily
Entry Quota
Number that
Can Be Reserved
Popular Destinations in This Zone
When in doubt, confirm your destination with the Forest Service to be sure of the correct zone.
1. Rockbound Lake 25 18 Rockbound Lake
2. General Creek 10 7 General Creek, Phipps Creek
3. Geneviere 20 14 Lake Geneviere, Crag Lake
4. Grouse Lakes 2 2 Grouse Lakes
5. Brown Mountain 8 6
6. Rubicon Reservoir 23 14 Rubicon Reservoir, Rubicon River
7. Stony Ridge 20 14 Stony Ridge Lake, Meeks Creek
8. Tells 11 8 Bassi Fork, Forni Lake
9. Highland 8 6 Highland Lake, Lake Zitella
10. Lelands 19 13 Horseshoe Lake, McConnell Lake, Leland Lakes, 4 Q Lakes
11. Camper Flat 20 14 Camper Flat, Northern Rockbound Valley, Rubicon River
12. Phipps 4 2 Phipps Creek, Phipps Lake
13. Lakes #3 and #5 8 6 Lake No. 3, Lake No. 5
14. Schmidell 10 7 Lake Schmidell
15. Dick's Peak 4 2
16. Middle Velma 20 14 Middle Velma Lake
17. Lower Velmas 40 28 Upper Velma Lake, Lower Velma Lake, Azure Lake
18. Eagle 6 4 Eagle Lake
19. Lawrence 8 6 Lawrence Lake, Top Lake, Lake No. 9
20. Red Peak 6 4
21. Lois 8 6 Lake Lois
22. China Flat 12 8 China Flat, Southern Rockbound Valley, Clyde Lake, Rubicon River
23. Dick's 16 11 Dick's Lake, Fontanillis Lake
24. Kalmia 6 4 Kalmia Lake, Snow Lake, Tallac Lake
25. Maud 12 8 Maud Lake, Jones Fork Silver Creek, Willow Flat
26. Rockbound Pass 6 4 Lake Doris
27. Mt. Price 12 8 Lake Aloha (west shore), Pyramid Peak, Crystal Range
28. Half Moon 5 3 Half Moon Lake, Alta Morris Lake
29. Gilmore 18 13 Gilmore Lake
30. Cathedral 4 2 Cathedral Lake
31. Tyler 8 6 Tyler Lake, Gertrude Lake
32. Twin 20 14 Twin Lakes, Island Lake, Boomerang Lake, Umpa lake
33. Aloha 36 25 Lake Aloha (east shore), Heather Lake, Lake LeConte, Jabu Lake, Lake Lucille, Lake Margery
34. Susie 8 6 Susie Lake
35. Grass 8 6 Grass Lake, Glen Alpine Creek
36. Hemlock 12 8 Grouse Lake, Hemlock Lake
37. Smith 5 3 Smith Lake, Secret Lake
38. Waca 5 3 Waca Lake, Pyramid Lake
39. American 10 7 American Lake, Channel Lake, Desolation Lake
40. Lake of the Woods 20 14 Lake of the Woods
41. Tamarack 20 14 Tamarack Lake, Cagwin Lake, Ralston Lake
42. Triangle 2 2 Triangle Lake, Lost Lake
43. Lyons 15 10 Lyons Lake, Lyons Creek, Lake Sylvia
44. Avalanche 20 14 Ropi Lake, Toem Lake, Osma Lake, Avalanche Lake, Pitt Lake, Pyramid Creek, Horsetail Falls
45. Ralston 4 2 Ralston Peak

map of Desolation Wilderness zones, CA